A geographical indication is a sign used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that place of origin. Most commonly, a geographical indication consists of the name of the place of origin of the goods. Agricultural products typically have qualities that derive from their place of production and are influenced by specific local factors, such as climate and soil. Whether a sign functions as a geographical indication is a matter of national law and consumer perception. Geographical indications may be used for a wide variety of agricultural products, such as, for example, "Tuscany" for olive oil produced in a specific area of Italy (protected, for example, in Italy by Law No. 169 of February 5, 1992), or "Roquefort" for cheese produced in France (protected, for example, in the European Union under Regulation (EC) No. 2081/92 and in the United States under US Certification Registration Mark No. 571.798).
The use of geographical indications is not limited to agricultural products. They may also highlight specific qualities of a product which are due to human factors that can be found in the place of origin of the products, such as specific manufacturing skills and traditions. That place of origin may be a village or town, a region or a country. An example for the latter is "Switzerland" or "Swiss," which is perceived as a geographical indication in many countries for products that are made in Switzerland and, in particular, for watches.
An appellation of origin is a special kind of geographical indication, used on products that have a specific quality that is exclusively or essentially due to the geographical environment in which the products are produced. The concept of geographical indication encompasses appellations of origin.
A geographical indication points to a specific place or region of production that determines the characteristic qualities of the product that originates therein. It is important that the product derives its qualities and reputation from that place. Since those qualities depend on the place of production, a specific "link" exists between the products and their original place of production.
Geographical indications are understood by consumers to denote the origin and the quality of products. Many of them have acquired valuable reputations which, if not adequately protected, may be misrepresented by dishonest commercial operators. False use of geographical indications by unauthorized parties is detrimental to consumers and legitimate producers. The former are deceived and led into believing to buy a genuine product with specific qualities and characteristics, while they in fact get a worthless imitation. The latter suffer damage because valuable business is taken away from them and the established reputation for their products is damaged.
A trademark is a sign used by an enterprise to distinguish its goods and services from those of other enterprises. It gives its owner the right to exclude others from using the trademark. A geographical indication tells consumers that a product is produced in a certain place and has certain characteristics that are due to that place of production. It may be used by all producers who make their products in the place designated by a geographical indication and whose products share typical qualities.
Geographical indications are protected in accordance with national laws and under a wide range of concepts, such as laws against unfair competition, consumer protection laws, laws for the protection of certification marks or special laws for the protection of geographical indications or appellations of origin. In essence, unauthorized parties may not use geographical indications if such use is likely to mislead the public as to the true origin of the product. Applicable sanctions range from court injunctions preventing the unauthorized use to the payment of damages and fines or, in serious cases, imprisonment.
A number of treaties administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) provide for the protection of geographical indications, most notably the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property of 1883, and the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and Their International Registration. In addition, Articles 22 to 24 of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) deal with the international protection of geographical indications within the framwork of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
If a geographical term is used as the designation of a kind of product, rather than an indication of the place of origin of that product, this term does no longer function as a geographical indication. Where that has occurred in a certain country over a substantial period of time, that country may recognize that consumers have come to understand a geographical term that once stood for the origin of the product - for example, "Dijon Mustard," a style of mustard originally from the French town of Dijon - to denote now a certain kind of mustard, regardless of its place of production.
WIPO is in charge of the administration of a number of international agreements which deal partly or entirely with the protection of geographical indications (see, in particular, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, and the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and Their International Registration). Furthermore, through the work of the Standing Committee on the Law of Trademarks, Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications, made up of representatives of member States and interested organizations, WIPO explores new ways of enhancing the international protection of geographical indications.